Country music has looked more and more like a trend-driven format in recent years. The bro-country movement is officially dead, and R&B-leaning material already seems to be on a downward trend.
What’s around the corner? It appears that labels are betting on a more traditional brand of country, a healthy dose of duos and groups, and killing the moratorium on female acts. Some 11 new artists are expected to release their debut albums during the last half of 2017, and that batch includes four groups or duos, four solo women and a healthy sprinkling of old-school sounds.
Midland, with “Drinkin’ Problem” at No. 11 on Country Airplay, has the highest 2017 chart success thus far of the current crop. It represents two of those forward-looking trends, since the three-piece band is a prime example of the neo-classic sensibilities increasingly finding their way into the music.
With a bevy of marketing strategies at their fingertips — particularly, smaller EPs and the possibility of releasing tracks one at a time — labels are less apt to pull the trigger on a full album. But when they do, it’s a signal of their belief in the artist.
Schedules are fluid, but here’s a look at the acts whose first albums are likely to hit the street before 2018 arrives:
• Craig Wayne Boyd(Reviver) — NBC’s The Voice introduced Boyd’s gritty vocals and outlaw tendencies to a national audience, which voted him the fall 2014 winner. After two previous low-profile stabs at a first album, an Oct. 27 release offers his first opportunity to connect with the audience through a full project on a label that has delivered a hit.
• Tyler Childers (Hickman Holler/Thirty Tigers) — Purgatory, due Aug. 4, is decidedly old-school with spacious arrangements built on mournful fiddles, jagged acoustic guitars and a stripped-down drumkit. Produced by Sturgill Simpson, the Americana project is garnering early critical acclaim for the Kentucky-born singer, who mines life-and-death themes with a backwoods resonance.
• Ruthie Collins (Curb) — Previously set for the first half of 2017, Collins’ debut has required some patience. She competed on CMT’s Can You Duet in 2008 and issued an EP in 2014. The upstate New Yorker maintains an innocence in her delivery and projects an optimism in her material, with an occasional Dolly Parton waver in her tone.
• Russell Dickerson(Triple Tigers) — Bolstered by an appearance on ABC’s The Bachelorette, his ballad “Yours” reached as high as No. 21 on Hot Country Songs. An album of the same name is on the way on Oct. 13, with Dickerson’s urgent vocal approach and propensity for syncopated melodies contributing to a noticeably contemporary project.
• Lindsay Ell(Stoney Creek) — The Canadian musician has developed her sonic lane by creating more space in the music. Her Kristian Bush-produced EP Worth the Wait took a confident, less-is-more approach, providing a cleaner framework for her forceful vocals and blues-rock guitar solos. The album is expected in August.
• Jillian Jacqueline (Big Loud) — An adept singer-songwriter, Jacqueline can be hooky, trippy or anthemic, particularly with the self-embrace in the piano ballad “God Bless This Mess” and the percussive high-school reflection “Bleachers.” The first female signed to Big Loud, she’s part of an ongoing debate at the label: release an EP or a full album? The answer is still TBD.
• LANco (Arista) — “Greatest Love Story,” which is in the top 40 on Country Airplay, is a tender first exposure for many listeners, but it just scratches the surface for LANco. The five-piece offers an energetic live show and songs with an upbeat worldview, a welcome elixir for the pessimism of modern times.
• Little Feather (Curb) — A second cousin to Loretta Lynnand Patty Loveless, singer-songwriter Liz Sharpe uses her “Little Feather” nickname as the banner for her five-piece band, which includes Glen Campbell’s son, Shannon Campbell. Although it’s acoustic-based, the Sept. 29 debut still drops the occasional electronic effect into the midst of its tightly wound harmonies.
• Midland (Big Machine) — Eagles harmonies meet Flying Burrito Brothersfashion and a Desert Rose Band sonic edge. Midland earned a standing ovation during a Country Radio Seminar luncheon in February. Its Sept. 22 release will appeal to purists and provide the format some creative balance in the process.
• Carly Pearce(Big Machine) — Currently enjoying her first trip to the top 25 on Country Airplay, Pearce has a commanding resonance and songs that lend themselves to thick, immersive harmonies. She’s also got a lengthy history already, having paid her dues in her teens performing 30 shows a week at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
• The Railers (Atlantic/Warner Music Nashville) — These skilled musicians have well developed their three-part harmonies without sounding over-polished. Current party song “11:59 (Central Standard Time)” is just starting its chart journey, and after five years on the roster, WMN hopes to release an album in late 2017, though it could be early 2018.
• Walker McGuire (Wheelhouse) — Jordan Walker and Johnny McGuire are already road kings, sometimes playing close to 300 shows annually. Along the way, they’ve honed compelling Everly-like two-part harmonies. They also have an affinity for classic country wordplay, evidenced in the movie pun they developed from the title “Holly Would.”
• Alex Williams (Big Machine) — Marshall Tucker, meet Moe Bandy. Williams’ debut album, Better Than Myself, arrives Aug. 11. He embraces core country topics like alcohol, addiction, honky-tonks and heartbreak. His drawl is Southern, and his voice is experienced. It’s hard not to like somebody who rhymes “Hallelujah” and “screw ya.”